Perceptions of Community Colleges
A recent article by Paul Fain in Inside Higher Ed reported on the value Americans place on higher education. A new survey has been conducted by New America, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. Their introduction to the study reads, “Varying Degrees: New America’s Annual Survey on Higher Education surveyed 1,600 Americans ages 18 and older to better understand their perceptions of and knowledge about higher education and economic mobility. The survey shows both unifying themes as well as differences across age, gender, generation, region, and socioeconomic status when it comes to the value of a college education, who is responsible for student success, the ideal role of government, and the goal of higher education.”
We in higher education have known for some time that potential students and families have mixed feelings about education. Even with these concerns however, most hope to go to college. They hear that you cannot get a good job with only a high school diploma. They hear that low-skill, high-wage jobs have gone the way of the buggy whip. They hear that there can be differences of $700 to $1,200 a month in pay between a high school graduate and someone with a high-skill associate degree or a bachelor’s degree, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) depending on field. Interestingly, Fain reports, most respondents think it is easier to find success with a degree than without one. However, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, 51% of respondents reported thinking that there are well-paying jobs that do not require any post-secondary education or training.
Wage data from the BLS show that associate degrees can provide for a very good annual salary. For example (and perhaps with some experience), dental hygienists average $68,560; engineering or electronics technicians are at just over $58,000; construction managers can make $83,860; registered nurses, $64,690; and operations managers, $94,400.
In the survey, several items should concern us in higher education. Just one-quarter of respondents feel higher education is functioning fine the way it is. Some 67% said colleges should help their students succeed, but less than half expressed belief that colleges provide enough support to get students to graduation.
If we focus on community colleges only, the results are somewhat different. More than 60% of respondents indicate that community colleges contribute to a strong work force, prepare people to be successful, are inclusive, and put students first. Some 82% said community colleges are worth the cost. Only 40% expressed that belief about for-profit institutions, 43% about private colleges, and 61% about public universities. It is gratifying to see that the public understands the quality and value colleges like BCTC offer.
BCTC is a comprehensive community college, a two-year associate degree granting institution. About half of our students are starting the path toward a bachelor’s degree and enroll in a transfer program. The other half are interested in a career or technical degree to land a good job that pays a living wage and offers advancement. Potential students looking for either pathway are welcome at BCTC. Go to BCTC’s Admissions page to find out more.